Congratulations! You are pregnant… or perhaps just thinking about having a baby? This
journey will uncover many firsts, beautiful experiences, and wonderful memories. But is
that really it? Or are there perhaps things that “fall through the cracks” and are
coincidentally not mentioned? What is it that nobody tells you about pregnancy?
Things carefully hidden under a veil of social projection that dictates what a pregnancy
is supposed to look like.
I am a mother of a three year-old boy and soon-to- be mom of baby boy number two.
While I would not trade motherhood for anything in the world, I felt slightly misled by the
notation of pregnancy in society – to say the least. Let’s have a look.
What You Expect
The journey begins as you find out you are pregnant and expecting your little bundle of
joy. The first trimester though can be a bit overwhelming and is generally characterized
by fatigue and morning sickness. However, these are common pregnancy symptoms,
and while they are not overly pleasant, you power through them. Around twelve to
thirteen weeks in, the nausea usually improves and your food aversions cease or at
least decline. As your body prepares for milk production, your breasts will likely remain
tender and sore throughout your pregnancy.
Many gastrointestinal symptoms can occur as well, including bloating, gas and
constipation. Heartburn is fairly common also. As your baby grows, tissue on your
abdomen and breasts may begin to tear, giving birth to stretch marks and forcing your
belly button to pop. You may also experience ligament and joint pains, as your body
produces a hormone called Relaxin that allows you to make room for your growing
Nevertheless, there are also pleasant side effects such as thicker and healthier hair and
nails. This is primarily due to the increase in estrogen levels that trigger hair and nail
growth. In addition, for most moms-to-be the highlight is feeling the fetus kick for the
very first time. Generally, this occurs sometime in the second trimester. Knowing that
your baby is happy and healthy is beyond rewarding.
What You Do Not Expect
Sounds good, you may think, I have a good picture of what the next nine months will
look like. But what did all the other moms never tell you?
Accelerated Aging and Grey Hair
While there is limited scientific research on the topic, some studies suggest that
pregnancies take a significant toll on your body and accelerate the aging process.
Telomeres, the caps at the end of chromosomes, shorten when cells replicate. As cells
do replicate a fair amount during pregnancy, these studies indicate that pregnant
women display shorter telomeres than their peers – leading to premature aging.
Consequently, some women will find their first grey hairs during pregnancy. Sometimes
grey hair is just an indicator for a nutritional deficiency, such as low B12 levels. But during
pregnancy especially, grey hair can also develop as a response to stress and hormonal
changes -which are all too common.
Many women try to avoid dying their hair during pregnancy – although only few trials
have been done on the toxicity of hair dye in pregnant women. Overall, they propose
that only small amounts of dye are absorbed by the mother’s skin and therefore will
lead to limited toxicity. However, many moms want to play it safe and end up just
rocking the grey and embracing their new manes.
Personally, I think I underestimated how much your skin changes during pregnancy.
Developing dark skin patches (hello, age spots!) and eczema (hello puberty!) is all too
common during pregnancy. It is quite impressive how you can develop both at once.
Hormonal changes are the primary reason behind skin patches and make your skin
appear darker. Oftentimes, skin discolorations appear on your face, and worsen further
with sun exposure. The “linea nigra,” a brownish line that runs from the pubis to the
navel (sometimes higher), is a further variant of these hormonal skin discolorations.
Generally, women with darker skin tones also display a more pronounced linea nigra.
Lucky for us, most skin discolorations clear up pretty quickly after delivery as the
hormonal balance is slowly being restored.
Weight Gain…and Retention
Yep, we all have to gain a few pounds during pregnancy. On average, most healthy
women gain about 25 to 35 pounds while they are expecting. Although there are
women that gain less or gain the same amount, but lose it fairly quickly, for the majority
of moms it is quite a journey to get back to our pre-pregnancy weights. Truth be told,
most women hold on to 5 to 10 extra pounds after each pregnancy. You also have a
much harder time, losing weight altogether if this is not your first child. Even with efforts
to work out regularly and live a healthier lifestyle, your weight may not drop. Sometimes
breastfeeding can really be a game changer in losing weight, as it assists you in burning
so many more calories. Unfortunately, breastfeeding depends on many factors,
including your baby’s appetite and your ability to produce milk. But even if you are
able to ramp up milk production temporarily, many of us will start putting the weight
back on once baby is old enough to switch to solid foods.
Morning Sickness, Continued
While the vast majority of women “only” experience morning sickness in the first
trimester, there are certainly exceptions to the rule. And if you are as unlucky as me,
you too will fall in this small percentile of expecting mothers with morning sickness lasting
well into the second or third trimester. Morning sickness can occur at any time of the
day and while it is oftentimes just nausea, it can also trigger continuous vomiting
episodes throughout your pregnancy. I remember being so nauseated and having
countless food aversions that even when I felt hungry, I was unable to get a bite down.
Now imagine a state of constant hunger and nausea for six or seven months –
alongside all other pregnancy symptoms. Furthermore, severe morning sickness can
have a major impact on mom and baby. In more serious cases, it can lead to
dehydration and even affect the growth of the fetus. Sure, there are anti-emetics, but
your options are much more limited while pregnant.
Pregnancy Rashes and PUPPP
To be quite frank, I had never heard about pregnancy rashes or hives until shortly after I
gave birth to my first son. In my case in particular, it was unusual it started only shortly
after giving birth and not whilst still pregnant. With baby number two, it happened
around the beginning of the third trimester. Pregnancy rashes can have a variety of
causes, but are frequently due to hormonal changes or imbalances.
Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP) is a particularly itchy rash
that can cause you weeks of scratching and sleepless nights. You are at a higher risk if
this is your first pregnancy or if you are pregnant with a baby boy. Being pregnant with
more than one baby can also play a role. Overall, only a small percentage of women
will experience PUPPP, nevertheless, if you are one of the few be prepared for what is to
come. The rash generally begins to form around your abdomen as tissue stretches due
to your growing fetus. From there, it will spread on to your arms and legs. Most of the
time, it will spare your face though – about the only spot it will not affect. Good news is
that it usually resolves within a week or so after delivering your baby. In the meantime,
antihistamines can help treat the itching that may occur.
While pregnancy can for sure be a “magical” time, there is no doubt you can also
experience some not-so-magical moments. Fact is however, that despite some
challenging experiences, women continue to look forward to their pregnancies and
embrace motherhood with open arms.
By Kady Stoll